Following is the official transcript of Episode 4 of All Things Tudor, in which historian Matthew Lewis takes a deep dive in all things Richard III and the Princes in the Tower. This is an excellent resource for students, historians or anyone looking for more information on what happened before the Tudors.
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Deb: Hi. I’m Deb Hunter and welcome to All Things Tudor. Today, I’m thrilled to welcome our guest, Matt Lewis. Matt is an author and historian of the middle ages for the particular focus on the Wars of the Roses and King Richard III. Matt is always taking to return to contemporary source materials, and he has written biographies of Richard III, his father, Richard, Duke of York, Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry III along with accounts of the Wars of the Roses and the Anarchy. Welcome, Matt. Nice to see you.
Matt: I’m good. Thank you, Deb. Thank you for having me.
Deb: You’re very welcome. I’m excited that you’ve joined and I can’t wait to hear what you have to share with us.
Matt: I’m happy to sit here and waffle all day long about all things Richard III and the Princes in the Tower, so I guess it’s how much of this your listeners can tolerate and put up with. Yeah, so Richard III been an interest for me since I was at school doing my A levels, which is the exams we sit over here in the UK at 18. I had a fantastic history teacher during my A levels. She was really enthusiastic and the kind of teacher that, that rubs off and sticks with you for the rest of your life. So I’ve read about and studied the War of the Roses ever since then. I won’t say how many years it is because it’s far more than I like to remember. But she I think was interested in Richard III. I never got to the bottom of whether she was a Ricardian and perhaps, I need to try and track her down and ask her. But I got the distinct feeling that perhaps she was a closet unannounced Ricardian because when we got to studying the bit about Richard III in the Wars of the Roses, she sort of paused and said, “Now with the Richard III part, you need to look at what sources you are reading. When were they written? Who wrote them? Why do you think they wrote them? What were they trying to tell you? What did they want you to take away from all of that? Wherever possible, you should look to get back to the contemporary source material.” That’s what really stuck with me and hopefully what comes across in my writing and my research is that I’m keen to always get back to the contemporary source material and try to avoid those secondary sources that feed in all kinds of bias, but also inaccuracy that comes with time and rumors and stories and myths and legends that build up around these things.
Matt: Richard III has struck me ever since as a particular case where those myths and legends are particularly strong and particularly prevalent and quite difficult to bat away to get through. There are a lot of facts that defy the kind of traditional accepted version of Richard III, but I think people cling to what they feel they know. They feel they know the story of Richard III and unfortunately, it’s always quite a Shakespearean view, the hunchbacked limping terrible villain who comes on stage and announces all of the evils that he’s going to commit. I absolutely love Shakespeare’s play, Richard III. I think it’s a fascinating study of an anti-hero. Shakespeare’s Richard is someone that we find ourselves sympathizing with and almost wanting him to succeed. We go along with all of his jokes while he’s on stage.
We are laughing along with him, even though we know he’s murdered his nephews, arranged the death of his brother, killing his wife, all of these things. We almost like him and that’s the trick that Shakespeare plays on us and that’s why he’s such a fascinating study of an anti-hero and a villain and how we relate to those kinds of people. But it isn’t history. I don’t think it was ever meant to be history and I think it’s our mistake that we’ve spent centuries taking it as an historical account of Richard III’s reign. From my own point of view, the Shakespeare play I think is interesting because I think it was meant as Shakespeare’s commentary on his contemporary politics so he can bring in a bit Tudor here. He’s writing it in the mid-1490s, so Elizabeth I is getting on a bit.
Matt: I’m sure she wouldn’t mind me saying that. She’s obviously unlikely to produce an heir at this point, so there is lots of question and concern about who is going to succeed Elizabeth I. Will it be a Catholic? Will it be a Protestant? We’re often told that Shakespeare was most likely a recusant Catholic so he remained a Catholic and I think we see that in some of his other plays and his other writings as well. We also know that the Protestant succession of James VI of Scotland, who goes on to become James I of England is being kind of masterminded by William Cecil and his son, Robert. William Cecil, Lord Burghley, is Elizabeth I longtime close advisor and his son, Robert is sort of being trained to step into his father’s boots to be the King’s right hand man or the Queen’s right hand man. They’re trying to plot the Protestant succession of the Stuart King of Scotland. I think if we look at it in the contemporary politics in which it was written and first performed, we can see Shakespeare’s Richard III as a commentary on the late Elizabethan politics: all of the concerns about the rightful king, who should succeed, who is scheming and plotting to get somebody onto the throne.
Matt: If Shakespeare was a Catholic who favored a Catholic succession, then he would’ve been against what the Cecil’s were trying to plan and put together. An interesting thing about Robert Cecil is that we know from the historical accounts that he suffered with kyphosis, which is different to Richard III’s scoliosis, which is a sideways curvature of the spine. It results in one shoulder being slightly higher than the other. Robert Cecil we know had kyphosis, which is a forward curvature of the spine, which is what Shakespeare unkindly terms as a bunch back. He doesn’t actually call it hunchback in his play. He calls it a bunch back. When we see this character limping onto the stage hunched over, I think the late Elizabethan audience would’ve been very clear that they were supposed to be looking at Robert Cecil, who then goes on to explain in all of his evil plans to use up the throne.
Matt: In this case, it would be on behalf of the Stuarts, but he’s plotting this Protestant succession under everybody’s nose. Everybody can see what he’s doing and he’s being allowed to get away with it. I think Shakespeare was possibly passing that kind of comment on the late Elizabethan politics rather than asking us to see the historical Richard III. Richard III becomes this convenient villain who he can use from fairly recent history to talk about what happens when the succession is uncertain and it’s upset and it’s perhaps derailed in Shakespeare’s view and so I think it’s kind of an accident that Richard’s story as told by Shakespeare becomes what is accepted as a historical account of Richard’s life and reign for the centuries that follow. The focus of my studies has always been to get back to the more contemporary source material. When I wrote my biography of Richard for example, it’s a big old doorstop of a book. If you don’t particularly want to read it or you don’t enjoy it, it makes a brilliant doorstop. If you can’t reach your kitchen cupboards, it gives you an extra few inches to stand on.
So there’s good reasons to buy the book. But over half the book talks about Richard’s life before he becomes king. We tend to get a situation where most writers introduce Richard almost in 1483 as he’s becoming king and it’s without any context or background or explanation of who he was and where he was coming from. But he was 30 in 1483, so there is a lot that had gone on in his life before that and we can track a phenomenal amount of information about him because he was the most powerful man in the country for a long time after his brother, Edward VI, the king. We can see lots of what Richard is doing and what he’s interested in and what he’s fascinated by. I think it’s important to understand who he is by 1483, because that’s the man that steps into all of the problems of that terrible year. His brother dies unexpectedly, there are all sorts of machinations and plots going on in London and around the courts.
Matt: Whichever side you think Richard is on, whether he’s the bad guy or the good guy or stumbling through it making a bit of a mess of it, the fact is it’s a mess. London and politics is a mess of and it’s not a mess of Richard’s making. It’s a mess that he is inserted into by his brother. I think you have to understand who that man is. The more you understand about Richard before 1483, the less that traditional view of him as a terrible cruel monster stacks up. It just starts to not make any sense and you can start to see a different story about why people weren’t happy with Richard’s reign and why they potentially abandoned him. That has nothing to do with Richard being an evil tyrant or the idea that Richard might have usurped the throne, which I don’t think you can describe him as a usurper. Actually, it’s very difficult to make out that Richard usurped the throne in any kind of technical or legal sense and I don’t think it had much to do with the Princes in the Tower either. What we see a lot in Richard’s early life for those maybe dozen or so years before 1483 when he is effectively ruling the north of England on behalf of his older brother, Edward IV, is a man who has quite unusual ideas and interests for his time. He’s not unusual in that he’s pious, but he is very pious. He has lots and lots of books. He has a vast library. He has written his name in lots of these books and they’re well read and these include things like medieval romances, stories of great knights and love stories and things like that alongside the kind of military texts of the day: Vegetius’ texts on how to perform in war and sit alongside medieval romances of knights saving damsels in distress. We also know from the sources that Richard was incredibly well trained in the law. The Croyland Chronicle, for example, talks about Richard and his brother, George, when they’re trying to divvy up the Warwick inheritance that they sort to get half each of.
Matt: Talking about them presenting their own legal arguments, the Croyland Chronicle who is anonymous, but was a Canon lawyer and at the center of the Yorkist government, is clearly impressed by these men and he talks about how good their legal arguments are and how well structured they are and how they’ve managed to put together these really strong convincing cases. We know that Richard is interested in the law. He’s interested in romance and stories of chivalry and he’s interested in how to be a good prince and how to be a good soldier, so he owns these books that are called Mirrors for Princes that talk about how to be a good ruler, how to act and how to behave as a Lord. I think there are examples that we can point to during his time in the north that probably paint a different picture than people see in 1483. But I think there is no break in Richard’s behavior. There are several examples we could talk about. In the early 1470s, just after they come back to the throne after Edward IV being briefly booted off the throne, Henry VI has been put back in place for six months, Edward IV comes back with Richard and a very small army and they end up defeating the Earl of Warwick and ever everybody else and Edward gets the throne back. Shortly after this, there is quite a long sitting of parliament because there is a lot to sort out. There’s been a whole lot of mess. We’ve had one king go, another come, he’s gone again quickly. There’s lots to sort out. But one of the things that crops up in the parliament is a murder case that takes place near York.
Matt: This is a lady called Catherine Williamson, who brings the case of her husband, who was murdered by three brothers on the road and this seems to have got to parliament because it was brought to the attention of Richard, the Duke of Gloucester. What happened was these three brothers were accused of murdering Catherine Williamson’s husband and they went to their father and said what they’d done and their response was to try and get the four of them into the service of Richard, Duke of Gloucester as the most powerful local Lord who could protect them. We have this system of livery and maintenance in place, which effectively means that you take a Lord’s livery badge, you become one of his men and in return, he maintains you. Initially when it started off, this maintenance would be a form of putting a roof over your head, giving you food, but it turned into this kind of broken corrupted system, whereby that maintenance became more about protecting those in the Lord’s service from the legal consequences of their bad actions. These were kind of small, private armies of thugs effectively that a powerful Lord would protect from the law so that they could do his dirty work. These four accused felons, three brothers and their father try to get into Richard’s service and they succeed.
Matt: But then someone tells Richard that the three brothers are accused of murder and that their father has protected them and that he’s been duped into taking them into his service.
Now, if Richard was an evil, vicious, ambitious man who wanted thugs on his side, he’d probably rub his hands together and think, right. These are the kind of guys I want around me to do my wicked deeds for me. But what Richard actually does is have the father arrested and sent to jail in York to await his trial and the three brothers actually managed to escape and flee, but Richard continually has them searched for and hunted and warrants made for their arrest all over the place in Yorkshire and so he kind of gives up this ability to build an affinity of ruthless men in favor of justice for this woman whose husband has been killed on the way home. What does Richard gain from championing Catherine Williamson? Well, nothing. It’s just the right thing to do I think we would say. We get cases later on when Richard is brought into conflict with his own mother Cecily Neville, the Duchess of York. John and Lucy Prince who own a manor called Gregory’s find that one day they are attacked by a London goldsmith who brings a whole load of men down, starts to round up their cattle, starts to steal all of their things and claims that he actually owns Gregory’s and essentially, John and Lucy Prince flee. They run away from this kind of small army that’s come to attack them and it’s actually Lucy Prince that goes back with a warrant from the sheriff telling them to stop.
Matt: John Prince doesn’t make it back, so clearly, Lucy was the brave one out of the two of them. But she goes back and they end up having this discussion where this goldsmith says, “I’m in the service of Richard, Duke of Gloucester and he’ll protect me.” Lucy Prince says, “Well, we’re in the service of Cecily Neville and she’ll protect us just as well as your Lord will.” These men sort of say, “Well, now we’ll find out who has the best of it, my Lord, or your lady.” Clearly, they’re pitting Richard and Cecily against each other and this gold merchant is expecting Richard to protect him because he’s in his service. But again, Richard doesn’t. What he does is set up a panel of lawyers with his mother. So they provide half the lawyers each to investigate the ownership of Gregory’s. At one point, one of Richard’s men kind of tries to interfere and bully some of the witnesses and Richard writes to him and tells him to pack it in. Stop it immediately! Again, he is not interested in bullying people to get the results that he wants. He’s allowing justice to take its course and in the end, this panel find that the Gregory’s belongs to John and Lucy Prince that this gold merchant has no claim to it and Richard sends him to the king’s council to explain what he had done and effectively tells him to behave himself from now on and never to bring Richard’s name into disrepute again. Even later into the early 1480s, we have a case of a John Ransom who is described as a husbandman, and a man called Sir Robert Clarkston of Horton is preventing John Ransom from working on his own lands.
Matt: John Ransom writes to Richard, Duke of Gloucester asking for help saying, what do I do? Richard takes John Ransom’s side. He looks into the matter again, finds that Sir Robert Clarkston has no leg to stand on, he’s just being a bully. Again, Robert Clarkston was probably expecting that Richard would support him and back him up because he had a son and a son-in-law in Richard’s service. But Richard, again, demonstrates that that doesn’t interest him because he writes to Sir Robert Clarkston. He gives him several opportunities to come and present his case and Robert Clarkston never turns up. So in the end, Richard writes this letter to him, which kind of is a medieval version of, “Don’t make me come down there and sort this out myself.” He tells him to get off John Ransom’s land and give it to him back. I think what’s interesting about these cases that we can point to is that more often than not, what Richard is doing is supporting someone lower down the social ladder against their superiors and against people who are in Richard’s service and might expect Richard’s protection.
Matt: The question I was constantly asking reading these cases was, what does Richard gain from doing this? He doesn’t gain power and authority. In fact, he risks giving it up because people won’t necessarily want to be in his affinity if he doesn’t protect them in the way that they believe they should be protected from all of the consequences of their crimes and their bad actions. Richard really gains very little from behaving like this, except for doing the right thing, for seeing justice done. That seemed to me to be a very strong interest of Richard. Again, that doesn’t tally with the man who rolls into London in 1483 and viciously deposes his own nephews just so that he can be king and kind of steals the throne from them and then behaves like a tyrant around the country.
Matt: But what it does tally with is a man who goes through 1483 and you know that’s a whole another conversation that we can have about what actually happened to make Richard king. But I think a lot of the reason that people abandon Richard is because he continues these policies of championing the common man against their social superiors, and who doesn’t like that? Well, their social superiors don’t like that. In Parliament, in 1484 in January and February, Richard enacts these laws. He reforms the bail law to prevent it from being denied to people who weren’t getting access to bail and for the first time he institutes a system, which says that you can’t have your good seized until you are convicted of a crime. Prior to that, you could have your good seized when you were arrested on suspicion of something and even if you were found not guilty, there was no requirement to turn those goods back over to the person who had been found innocent.
Matt: The sheriff or whoever could decide to keep those things and they could be the tools of a man’s trade or everything that he has to live off through the winter. So a person could be ruined to the point of by a false accusation being made against them. Richard starts to close down all of those avenues by which people’s lives are made difficult at the bottom of the social ladder and in doing that, he’s obviously taking away rights and powers of those further up the social ladder. Really, we’re talking about the regional gentry’s figure, knights and gentry who have thrived off corruption. One of the other things that Richard complains about is the corruption under Edward the IV’s reign and he starts to shut down all of those avenues of corruption. It’s this layer of gentry and knights, especially in the Southeast of England, closest to the courts of Edward IV who had probably prospered the most from that corruption.
Matt: They’re the ones that abandon Richard and go over to Henry Tudor in exile in Brittany first and then in France and they’re the ones who fight against Richard at the Battle of Bosworth. I don’t think it has anything to do with noble ideas around what may have happened to Edward IV sons or Richard being a tyrant who had no right to the throne. I think it has to do with corrupt men finding their incomes and their paths to corruption broken by Richard and thrashing against that by going over to Henry Tudor believing that this nobody in exile in Brittany who has no experience will be forced to rely on them when he comes back and therefore they’ll be able to reopen all of these ways in which they have been able to be corrupt. I think the one thing that comes out of it is that once Henry gets his feet under the table as king, they’re very quickly disabused of the idea that he’s a puppet. They very much don’t get the king that they were expecting when Henry Tudor is set up and knows what he’s doing.
Matt: I think the reasons that people abandon Richard are probably not what people have always thought them to be. I think there’s a very different story there. I think to believe in the traditional version of Richard, the ambitious monster, you’re forced to ignore not only a lot of the contemporary evidence and you have to rely on the later writing of Tudor writers like Thomas More and people like that. But you also have to ignore the first 30 years of Richard’s life and the way that he has behaved up until 1483. You have to say that all of that was either a lie or he has some kind of damascene conversion or the other way round I guess in 1483 and suddenly becomes an ambitious ruthless monster when faced with the crisis of his brother’s death, which isn’t impossible, I guess. But it’s kind of fighting against the evidence at this point.
Matt: I think to maintain that traditional version of Richard starts to become an effort to ignore a lot of what was going on and I think the more you genuinely set that baggage down and read about what Richard did and the way he behaved and some of the issues around what was happening in 1483 and beyond that, the less that traditional monster stands up and the more he begins to crumble away and you see that there was a very different man behind those layers of myth and legend that we’ve been bequeathed by people like Thomas More and William Shakespeare throughout the 16th century. But Thomas More is another one that we know he published his story of Richard III. He never finished it and he never published it. His nephew wrote the end of it and published it about 20 years after More was executed. Again like Shakespeare, I don’t think Thomas More was writing history in the way that we think of writing history. That didn’t really exist as a discipline in the 15th and 16th centuries. History was a branch of rhetoric. It was a way of telling stories.
Matt: It was a way of looking for moral tales and wrapping them up in a kind of nice story that people could relate to because they’d heard about these figures in the past. I think Thomas More was writing about the dangers of tyranny and I think he was aiming it at Henry VIII, although you can’t obviously call this, “Henry VIII is a terrible man, isn’t he?” Because that’s the surest way to get your head separated from your shoulders. We know that Thomas More had experience of this. Under Henry VII, he had opposed a taxation in parliament only for his father to be imprisoned in the immediate aftermath. I think he’d learnt the lesson that you can’t speak out directly against the king and the government, which I’m surprised he had to learn that lesson to be fair. But nevertheless, I think his Richard III was meant as an exercise in rhetoric and allegory to talk about tyranny. I think his Edward V is the promise of Henry VIII. So this young king full of promise, innocent, everybody believed he’s going to be wonderful young man, great, big strapping lad, he’s going to do great.
Matt: That king is usurped and replaced by Richard III, who I think represents what More saw as what they actually got with Henry VIII. Henry VIII starts his reign off by ordering the executions of Empson and Dudley ostensibly for doing what his father Henry VII had ordered them to do. They did their jobs under Henry VII. Henry VIII comes along and because these two men are the figureheads of the unpopular financial policies of his father’s later years, Henry sees a chance to impress people, win people over by having these men executed and he quite willingly sacrifices them to improve his own reputation. That for me is where real tyranny starts and I think that’s what Thomas More is talking about. I think his Richard III is what he fears that Henry VIII could become because we quite often talk about Henry VIII becoming a tyrant and a monster in the 1530s, but that was there right from the very, very start of his reign.
Matt: He was capable of behaving that way and so I think Thomas More was sort of talking about the ways in which he shouldn’t behave like that. Again, like Shakespeare, I think Richard III becomes this convenient character that you can use to wrap around all of these stories that you want to tell. Perhaps Thomas More stopped writing it, he didn’t finish it or publish it because he entered royal service under Henry VIII and he thought, I don’t need to do this now because I can try to change things from the inside. I’m going to be in the inner circle here. I can enact those changes that I think we should see. I can try to moderate Henry’s behavior. We know ultimately they fall out about Henry VIII’s wish to be divorced from Catherine of Aragon and the supremacy of Henry over the English church. Something that More just can’t accept. Perhaps More felt that he was right in the end, that Henry was a tyrant and a dangerous man to be around and ultimately that would cost more of his life. I think these histories that we rely on for our versions of Richard III are not only wrong. One of the striking things about Thomas More: people will say, he’s a Saint, he’s also a lawyer, he would’ve checked his facts, and he would’ve been as accurate as it was possible to be.
Matt: But if you look at More’s, Richard III, the very first sentence of it is a mistake. He gives the age of Edward IV and he gets it almost 10 years wrong and I think that’s his little pointer to say this isn’t real fact, because why would he say this completely wrong age? Would he have gone back and checked it later? Well, we could say that about every fact that he says, every name that he throws in then is cast into doubt because we have this one sentence right at the start that is demonstrably, factually, utterly incorrect. But I think that was deliberate on More’s part. It’s a little signpost that says this isn’t history. I think we’ve accepted a lot of these myths and legends about Richard III that were never meant to tell us his history and what he was really like, but we’ve taken them as that. People will talk about Richard III relying on Shakespeare’s play or relying on Thomas More and particularly as evidence of some of the crimes that he’s accused of virtually all of which you can easily discount or at least throw an awful lot of doubt on. The greatest of those is probably the fate of the Princes in the Tower I guess. Something else that I’ve written a book on called The Survival of the Princes in the Tower, so if you’re in any doubt what I think happened, it’s probably given away in the title of that book. But I think again, the traditional story doesn’t stack up. So I wrote this book wanting to look at all of the other ideas that surrounded the fate of the Princes in the Tower that were not normally examined. It very definitely wasn’t an effort to say that I’d solved the case and I absolutely concede that their murders in 1483 are still entirely possible and that Richard has to be the prime suspect if there were murders. But that doesn’t mean it definitely was him and it doesn’t mean there definitely were murders. This book was an exploration of all of the other ideas around what may have happened to them if they weren’t killed in 1483 and if they survived beyond 1485 and there are surprising amounts of evidence to back up the idea that at least one, and I think both of them were still alive after 1485.
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Matt: For my many, we’ve got two missing princes and we get two pretenders to the Tudor throne during the early years of Henry VII’s reign. I don’t think that’s a coincidence. The first of those is Lambert Simnel. This is an uprising in 1487 in which this traditional story tells us a boy from Oxford is taken over to Ireland by a priest and is trained to impersonate Edward, Earl of Warwick, who is a nephew of Richard III and Edward IV, but he’s also a prisoner of Henry VII in the Tower of London. This whole thing becomes a bit of a joke because they’re claiming to have this boy that Henry parades around London and is very clearly a prisoner. They invade England. We get the Battle of Stoke Field at which their forces made up largely of Irish Kerns, Irish soldiers, and some German mercenaries are utterly defeated by Henry VII and we get this story that Lambert Simnel is found on the battlefield spared by the merciful Henry and put to work in the Royal kitchens.
Matt: But I think all of that is a cover up for the fact that the Lambert Simnel affair was really about Edward V and the fact that everybody in this period is called Edward or Richard or Henry, which infuriates historians was used by the early Tudor government to kind of turn this threat into a bit of a joke. I’ve divided the evidence for this idea into two types. We have the documentary evidence, but we also have the evidence of human actions because we don’t have a lot of documentary evidence for what happened to the Princes in the Tower one way or the other, whether they were murdered or whether they survived.
We have lots of rumors flying around in various sources that something might have happened to them, that Richard may have done something, and that Buckingham might have done something. One of them could have escaped. These are all just rumors flying around everywhere. The early certainty about the fate of the princes really comes from France and France has a very obvious reason for wanting to paint Richard as a bit of a monster at this time. But with the Lambert Simnel affair, Polydore Vergil for example talks about there being a plot to restore Edward to the throne. Now, Edward, Earl of Warwick can’t be restored to the throne because he’s never been king. The only Edward who can be restored if he’s still alive in 1487 is Edward V.
Matt: We have the coronation in Dublin that’s documented as taking place and a coronation is the missing piece of Edward V kingship. He’s proclaimed king in 1483, but never crowned. So we have the coronation taking place. We have Bernard Andre, the court poet to Henry VII who writes The Life of Henry VII and a chronicle of all of these times who says specifically that this boy in Ireland was claiming to be a son of Edward IV and he repeats this several times. I would suggest it’s not a mistake or a slip of his pen because he says it several times and he says that Harold gets sent over to Ireland at one point who claims that he knew the boy and knew who the boy that he was claiming to be, and that he would go and question him and examine him and prove that he was a liar. This Harold comes back and says, “Well, he answered all my questions and I can’t tell you, he doesn’t look like the boy he’s claiming to be.” This boy that he’s claiming to be according to Bernard Andre is the son of Edward IV called Edward. Well, that’s Edward V. We do have written sources that are pointing to the idea that this wasn’t what the official story was telling us it was and we also have this human element to the evidence as well. I don’t think you can ignore the actions of people, particularly those that would be affected by the Princes in the Tower. In the book, I liken the continued existence of the Princes in the Tower to something like a black hole in history. We can’t see a black hole in space, but we can see the gravitational effect it has on things around it. We can’t see the Princes in the Tower in the historical record either alive or dead really. But what we can look for is that gravitational effect on the people who cared about them and the people who would be affected by their deaths or their survivals. Central to that I think is their mother Elizabeth Woodville. We know that she comes out of sanctuary in March, 1484 and allows her daughters to go to Richard III court, encourages her son from her first marriage, Thomas Grey, the Marquess of Dorset who is on the continent with Henry Tudor to come back.
Matt: Now, these aren’t the actions for me of a woman who believes or knows that Richard has murdered her two young sons by Edward IV, but she’s also accused of being involved in the Lambert Simnel affair and that doesn’t make any sense if it’s an uprising in favor of Edward, Earl of Warwick, because she gains nothing by putting her deceased husband’s nephew on the throne. She’s quite often implicated in arranging or organizing or encouraging Edward towards the execution of George, Duke of Clarence, who was Edward, Earl of Warwick’s father. So Warwick is unlikely to be sympathetic to Elizabeth Woodville. Why would she be involved or even be suspected of being involved in this uprising? She’s got a daughter who is Queen of England, Henry IV wife, Elizabeth of York. She has a grandson, Arthur, who is set to inherit the throne next. Well, what puts her in a better position in 1487 than having a daughter on the throne and a grandson waiting to inherit? I would argue that the only thing that puts her in a better position is having a son on the throne of England and that would be Edward V assuming that he was still alive, or at least she believed he was.
We know that Thomas Grey, the Marquess of Dorset, who I mentioned before is thrown into the Tower of London during the Lambert Simnel uprising and anecdotally, we’re told that he says, “Why am I being put in prison? What have I done wrong?” He’s told that if he’s really loyal to Henry VII regime, he won’t mind spending in the tower to prove it. He’s suspected of involvement in the Lambert Simnel affair as well and like his mother, what does he gain by putting Warwick on the throne in place of his own sister? I would argue nothing and perhaps the biggest piece of human evidence in this is the actions of a man named John de la Pole, the Earl of Lincoln.
Matt: He is the oldest nephew of Richard III and Edward IV, the son of their sister, Elizabeth, the Duchess of Suffolk. Lincoln is initially courted by Henry VII. He tries to keep him loyal. He’s treated with respect and growing trust I think even if Henry didn’t really trust him. But in the end, Lincoln flees over to Burgundy, joins up with the Lambert Simnel affair and is the military leader effectively of the army that arrives in England and John de la Pole in 1487 has probably the best Yorkist claim to the throne if the Princes in the Tower are dead. So Edward, Earl of Warwick is legally barred from accession by his father’s attendant as a traitor, so he can’t legally become king. John de la Pole is the oldest nephew, the oldest living adult male of the House of York and so arguably would’ve been heir to Richard III after Richard’s son died in 1484, although it’s not something that’s ever specifically dealt with at all. I would ask why John de la Pole sets aside his own perfectly good Yorkist claim to the throne. The fact that John de la Pole is a grown up, that everybody knows who he is, there’s no doubt over his identity, all of these would’ve made him much more preferable I think to a boy from Oxford who is pretending to be a boy who is a prisoner in the tower because either way you end up with a boy king, one who is legally barred from the throne and John de la Pole has none of these problems. What makes set aside his own potential claim to be the rightful king of England in favor of somebody else? Well, the only people who had a better Yorkist claim to the throne in 1487 than John de la Pole were the sons of Edward IV, who had been re-legitimized by Henry VII and so Edward V and Richard, Duke of York were the senior Yorkist as to the throne.
Matt: The only person I think that John de la Pole would’ve set his own claim aside for in 1487 is Edward V and I think if you allow for those facts, then it starts to make more sense of what happened in 1487. I don’t think the boy Lambert Simnel who ends up working in the Royal kitchens was the leader of this army at all. I think he’s a boy who’s plucked from somewhere as a figurehead for all of these things that go on and I think if Edward V was at the Battle of Stoke Field, we don’t know what happened to him after that. He could have died in the battle. We have one account from Agent Brutus that says he was taken abroad, that he was swept away from the battlefield over the channel and onto the continent, or was he captured placed somewhere else as a prisoner of Henry VII? We just don’t know. But I think a lot of that stuff makes more sense if it was an uprising in favor of Edward V than an uprising favor of Edward, Earl of Warwick. Perkin Warbeck in the 1490s again, I just think there is so much evidence to suggest that he was genuine and that people believed he was genuine. As certain as lots of people seem to be that he was a fraud, the confession that he signs is full of inconsistencies and problems. I think it’s a document that’s prepared for him to sign and we have several accounts of Perkin Warbeck after his capture being beaten around the face. Bernard Andre says that he’s beaten by Henry’s servants. When he’s captured, Diego de Guevara, the Spanish ambassador talks about Perkin being disfigured by the time he arrives in London and worrying that he won’t live much longer if he continues to be treated this way.
Matt: We have a Harold’s account that says Perkin had no luster in his left eye and it was all but destroyed and so it’s clear that he’d been beaten. Well, why would he be beaten? Probably because he looked utterly convincing as Richard, Duke of York and so I think Henry VII felt that he needed to obscure those looks. Perkin talked about during his time claiming to be Richard of England. He talked about three physical marks that he had that would prove to anyone who knew Richard, Duke of York that he was genuine and Henry VII strikingly never refutes this. He never wheels him out and says, either you don’t have these three marks that Richard, Duke of York had or actually, here’s all Richard, Duke of York sisters who say that he never had the marks that you have that you are talking about. Potentially, one of the marks that we can see, which might be one of the things he talks about. Frustratingly, he never tells us what the three marks are, but one of them may be a cast in his left eye, which if we see the sketch of Perkin Warbeck that was done when he was in Burgundy with Margaret, Duchess of Burgundy, it looks like he possibly has a drooping eyelid on his left eye and we know that this is a trait of the Plantagenet’s family. We know that Henry III and Edward I had these drooping eyelids too. Was this a physical mark that Richard, Duke of York had had that proved who he was? This is the reason that he has to be beaten around the face until this Harold says his left eye is effectively destroyed. It’s interesting that they focus on that area and his physical appearance in order to destroy any resemblance to Richard, Duke of York, I guess. The resemblance might not mean that he was the real Richard, Duke of York.
Matt: There are theories that he was an illegitimate son of Edward IV, but again, you’re starting to push against the weight of the evidence that suggests Perkin at least could have been the genuine Richard, Duke of York. Whilst I don’t claim to have solved the story of the Princes in the Tower, what I ask readers I guess is for an open mind and I allow for the fact that they could have been murdered in 1483, and that that could have been on Richard’s orders, but I don’t think it’s likely, and I think there are these other options. All I ask is that people look at those options with a slightly open mind. Set aside that baggage that you think you know what happened to the Princes in the Tower. You think you know what Richard III motives were and that of course, he had to kill the princes because I’m not convinced any of that is true. I don’t know how much longer you can cope with me talking, but there is an example of what a king did with two young boys who had a claim to his throne.
Deb: I’m absolutely mesmerized and taking notes like I’m going to have a test later. I love this. You can talk all you want.
Matt: Well, I’ll just tell you the story. If we are thinking about how might a king deal with two young boys who have what some might consider to be a better claim to the throne than he does, I think, Richard, if he looks to his history has two ways to go in 1483. We have what I describe as the King John way. We know that when King John comes to the throne in 1199, there are some who believe that his nephew, Arthur of Brittany, has a better claim to the throne. Arthur is the son of John’s older brother, Geoffrey, who has already passed away. He actually died before Arthur was born and Eleanor of Aquitaine particularly champions John’s accession rather than Arthur’s and eventually, the two end up at war.
We get a situation at one point where Arthur actually besieges his nan, Eleanor of Aquitaine, in a castle and John comes hurrying to her rescue and in one of his very rare military successes manages to break this siege and capture Arthur and sort of rescue his mom. Lots of the sources then tell us that again, nobody knows what happened to Arthur of Brittany arguably, the first real prince in the tower. But lots of the sources talk about John murdering him. Some of them say that John did it himself. There’s one source that talks about John getting drunk at a banquet one night and sort of staggering up the stairs and attacking Arthur, killing him, cutting his stomach open, filling him full of stones and throwing him out the window into the river below and that didn’t really work out for John as a way to deal with rivals. John isn’t really a template that I think anybody would use. No medieval king is going to be looking and thinking I want to be like King John. But what Richard also has is a much more recent and a much more successful template for how he might behave. When Richard II is deposed in 1399, he’s replaced by Henry IV, the first of the Lancastrian Kings. But Henry IV wasn’t Richard II heir. Richard II had no children and most people believed that his heirs were the Morton family. The IV Earl of March had passed away in 1398, the year before Richard II was deposed and he left behind him two small children, Edmund and John and so they were considered by many to be the rightful heirs to Richard II and Henry IV comes along and takes the throne instead.
Matt: Now, these two young boys are too young to press their own claims at this time and so they don’t really oppose Henry, but what Henry does is take them into a fairly loose sort of custody. They’re kept in a castle, but everybody knows where they are and eventually, they’re abducted actually by members of the House of York by Constance of York in particular, who is sister of the then Duke of York, Edward. They’re quickly recovered.
The plan had been actually to get them to Wales to depose Henry IV and replace him with Edmund, the older of the two boys who goes on to become the V Earl of March. But the boys are quickly recovered and what Henry does then is place them under tighter security. So he removes the loose bonds that they were kept in and they’re kept much more closely after that. Eventually, they’re transferred into the household of Prince Henry, the Prince of Wales, the future Henry V. When Henry V becomes king in 1413, he immediately releases both the Morton boys who are now men. Edmund Morton I think is 21 at the point when Henry becomes king and he’s allowed to take up his position as Earl of March, probably one of the richest nobleman in the country and he ends up serving the Lancasterian regime impeccably from that point onward. In 1415, there is another plot to put Edmund on the throne, to assassinate Henry V and his brothers and replace him with Edmund and again, this is led by the House of York. So Richard of Conisbrough, who is the father of Richard, Duke of York, the grandfather of Edward IV and Richard III is executed for being at the head of this conspiracy. But it’s Edmund Morton who exposes the conspiracy to Henry V. Rather than wanting to be king and go along with this plot to place him on the throne, Edmund goes and tells Henry what’s happening and who’s involved and gets them arrested and effectively executed.
Matt: Edmund dies in 1425 acting as lieutenant in Ireland for Henry VI and so he serves the Lancastrian regime impeccably for all of his life. If Richard is looking for a template for how to deal with these two boys, he has one there that worked and it doesn’t involve murdering the boys. I think if you’re looking for the part of the plan that didn’t work, it was that initial loose custody where everybody knows where they were and they could be easily abducted.
If I’m Richard, I’m thinking I’ll do away with that and what I’ll do is keep the boys nice and safe, bring them up, they’re my nephews, they’re my family. I’ll make sure they’re brought up and looked after, but I won’t advertise where they are because that encourages people to go looking for them and to try to abduct them. That’s what I think Richard does in 1483. He takes that template, he chops off the bit of it that didn’t work and moves into the part where you keep them closely guarded, but safe and protected. So all these ideas that perhaps one of the princes escaped for me are wrong because I don’t think they needed to escape Richard. I don’t think they were in any danger. Richard had a perfectly workable template for how to behave and I think he could quite easily have followed that. Yes, perhaps it wouldn’t have worked, perhaps one or both of the boys would’ve rebelled in the future, but Richard doesn’t seem to me the kind of man who would execute a child on the basis that they might do something bad in the future. We know for example Henry VII keeps the sad, unfortunate Earl of Warwick as a prisoner until 1499 when he’s 24 I think at that point and has him executed. He just waits till he’s an adult, never sets him free and has him executed.
Matt: Henry VII doesn’t execute a child. So why can’t we allow for Richard III not wanting to move straight into executing his own nephews as his kind of first response to a crisis? It just doesn’t fit with Richard’s personality. The way that he’s behaved up until this point, you will find no other example before 1483 of Richard aside from on the battlefield, killing and murdering people or being cruel or nasty for the sake of it. It just doesn’t happen. It requires a belief in this immediate change in his personality in 1483, but he also has this template that worked. Why would you not use that first? If you can save and protect your brother’s children, why wouldn’t you at least try that before you murdered them?
Why would murder be your first move when it’s so far away from Richard’s personality? For my money, the Princes in the Tower were never in danger from their uncle Richard. I think he kept them somewhere safe and if I had to nail my colors to the mast here, my theories are that the boys are separated. Again, it’s important to remember when we think about them that despite all the Victorian portrait that shows them kind of clinging to each other, they weren’t a single unit. We call them the Princes in the Tower and it creates this idea that they were holding onto each other, that they were a single unit facing a single fate, but they’d been brought up completely separately. Edward V from the age of two until he was 12 was raised on the Welsh Marches at Ludlow, which is not too far away from where I am. Richard, Duke of York was raised in London at the court with his mother and his sisters. Very strong parallels there between Prince Arthur Tudor and Prince Henry, the future Henry VIII in the ways that they’re brought up.
Matt: But they weren’t around each other very much. They may well barely have known each other, so there was no trauma in separating them, I don’t think. If I have to offer theory for what I think happened, I would suggest that Richard maybe sent Edward V up to one of his castles in the north. We know that he had castles like Midland, Barnard Castle, and Sheriff Hutton Castle that he had been in charge of for more than a decade that were stocked with men who were utterly loyal to Richard who loved him and respected him. He was a well-loved Lord in the north and that he kept Edward there. Perhaps as part of the household of the Council of the North, we have the constitution of the household of the north that talks about the children being at breakfast and we know that a few months after these were written, Elizabeth of York and Edward, Earl of Warwick both went into that household too. Perhaps it was prepared talking about the children in preparation for their arrival, but perhaps there was already at least one child there who needed to be dealt with and was dealt with respect. That would explain why in the aftermath of Bosworth, we get this huge rush for from Henry Tudor and he’s meant to get up to Yorkshire. Now, the other side of that is obviously he wanted to get his hands on Elizabeth of York, who he had promised to marry to cement his position on the throne, but it’s also possible that Edward V was there and that he was keen to get his hands on him. The easiest way out of that situation when the news arrived that Richard had lost at Bosworth, would’ve been to move Edward V to Ireland. It was the closest safe haven, utterly loyal to the House of York. It would’ve been the easiest way to get Edward out of harm’s way and to safety and that would explain why the Lambert Simnel affair emerges in Ireland because that’s where Edward V went after that. My theory for Richard, Duke of York is that he goes over to Burgundy to Richard’s sister, Margaret, the Duchess of Burgundy to be protected and raised there and that’s why Perkin Warbeck emerges in that part of the world and his story originates around Burgundy and the French border and then he moves to Portugal and then up to Ireland and then goes back to Burgundy again and so that just kind of fits with the facts, I think.
Matt: It just starts to make sense. I think pieces drop into place that otherwise don’t make sense in the ways that people behaved and I just don’t think people rebelled against Richard III because they thought he’d done away with the Princes in the Tower. I think the people that rebelled against Richard III between 1483 and ultimately, took to the field at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485, did so for their own very selfish reasons and that the fate of the Princes in the Tower becomes a convenient, chivalric and honorable sounding cover for what they did, because those men can’t say, “I want to oppose the king because he’s a nice guy who’s doing lots of great things for the people and I want to get rich off all the corruption that I used to have.”
That’s not a reason that people are going to say they’re taking to the field of battle. In the aftermath, they’re able to hide behind this idea that Richard could have killed his nephews and oh yeah, I was outraged about that and that’s why I did it. Definitely, that’s the reason that I fought against him at Bosworth. But I just don’t buy it. I don’t think it’s true. I think Richard has been given an incredibly rough ride personally by history. I think he’s not the man that history has painted him to be and I think the story of Richard and the story of the Princes in the Tower is far less certain than people think it is, it is far more interesting than people think it is. If we accept the possibility that Richard was a nice guy, that he wasn’t a tyrant and that the Princes in the Tower survived beyond the Battle of Bosworth in 1485, it opens up a whole new world of possibilities for understanding the early Tudor regime: it’s uncertainty: it’s fear, it’s paranoia and it’s reaction to threats.
Matt: I think that there’s just a whole story there that we’ve managed to ignore for hundreds and hundreds of years. With my books, the book of Richard III and The Survivor of the Princes in the Tower, I’m trying to pick those things apart, return to the contemporary evidence and say, I think there’s different story here that we’ve missed and that is potentially far more interesting than the one we think we know. I don’t know that it’s true. I would never claim that what I say is 100% accurate, but this is what I think based on my studies of Richard of the contemporary source material and trying to make sense of things that in the traditional story that don’t really make sense otherwise. Read my books. Hopefully, they’re interesting. Hopefully, they’ll tell you a very different story from the one you think you know.
Deb: We’ve made a very convincing argument, not only for Richard III but weaving it into Shakespeare and the Tudors. Can you tell us a little bit more about your books and where we can find them?
Matt: They are around in no good bookstores I imagine, but definitely available online. Hopefully, you can get them in bookstores near you too. I have written an overview of The Wars of the Roses. I’ve written a biography of Richard, Duke of York, who is the father of Richard III and Edward IV. He is a figure who I find every bit is interesting and every bit is badly treated by history as his youngest son, Richard III and understanding him is really some critical context to understanding the beginnings of the Wars of the Roses, why it happened and ultimately to understanding the Tudors. I’ve written a biography of Richard III, which is the doorstop and the aid to reaching your kitchen shelf that I mentioned before. I’ve also written a book called Richard III in fact and fiction, which is a shorter book that tries to look at some of the most common myths around Richard III and look at what actual evidence we have to prove or disprove any of these common stories that we hear about Richard. Outside of that, I’ve written a book on The Anarchy: The Civil War between Stephen and Matilda in the 12th century, which made me slightly worried that I’m just drawn to civil wars all over the place. Medieval civil wars seem to be where I’m at home all the time. But again, I found that a very interesting conflict and I found Matilda is a fascinating woman, an incredible woman who did incredible things in her time. But I also found Stephen, a very different person from the one that history has remembered him as. He definitely stole the throne, but there’s more to it than that and I think he suffered a lot of the threats that he suffered because he was too much of a nice guy. Nice guys don’t make very good kings. You need to have that ruthless streak in you and I think Stephen at least lacked it on several occasions.
My most recent book is a joint biography of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, which I wrote really as equal to the anarchy.
Matt: Henry II gets the throne at the end of the anarchy, but his story was just so interesting even up to that point that I wanted to keep going with it. If you are going to talk about Henry II, it’s impossible not to talk about Eleanor of Aquitaine, who was every bit his match in every way, an interesting character. For me, she had led a full medieval life before she even met Henry. She’d been Queen of France, had two children and been on crusade to the Holy Land before she even met Henry II and after his death, she goes on being the most significant power broker in England, if not much of Western Europe. She champions her son Richard on the throne. She personally raises and delivers the ransom that frees him from captivity. It’s her that’s behind John getting the throne rather than her grandson Arthur and so right up to her death, we see her acting as a real player. It’s interesting that it’s after her death that the Angevin Empire for want of a better word, I try not to call it an empire, but it’s after Eleanor’s death that it really begins to fall apart and that John starts to lose all of those lands. So I think Henry II and Eleanor were the glue that kept all of that together because they were incredible people and simply no one else was up to the task of doing what they did. I’ve got another book due out very soon called Rebellion in the Middle Ages, which just looks at some of the most significant rebellions between the Norman Conquest and the Battle of Bosworth really to look at who rebelled, why they rebelled, why did rebellion succeed, and why did they fail? Is there a trick to rebelling successfully against the crown? In the end, looks at an unlikely rebel that was perhaps the most successful rebel in the whole period, but I won’t give away who it was.
Deb: Okay. You’ll just have to come back then.
Matt: Okay. Anytime.
Deb: Now, more about your podcast, please.
Matt: Yes, I co-host a podcast called Gone Medieval for History Hit. I have a new episode out every Saturday and my co-host, Dr. Cat Jarman, has an episode out every Tuesday. Cat is a bio archeologist who specializes in the Viking era, so she looks after the first half roughly of the medieval period and she’s got lots of Vikings and Anglo Saxons as well as lots of interesting things going on around the world as well, China and Africa and the Middle East and all those kinds of places. I kind of get the second half, so from the Norman Conquest onwards, roughly. Again, I get lots of interesting Kings and Queens, lots of interesting battles and things going on, but we also try to look at some of the less well known personalities and themes of the time. I recently talked in an episode about a new book by Daniele Cybulskie about How to Live Like a Monk. What lessons can we learn from the way that monks lived to help improve the way we live our lives today? We try to look at lots of interesting things, as well as the big grand sweep of medieval history and we try to bill it as the most important, exciting, and interesting millennium in human history, which is probably an unreasonable thing to say on a Tudor podcast. But there you go. I’ve said it now anyway.
Deb: I will. It’s your time so that’s okay. How can we find you on social media?
Matt: I am on Twitter and Facebook as Matt Lewis Author and on Instagram as Matt Lewis History. I’m probably on Twitter far more than I ought to be. I tend to spend the time that I should be writing, checking Twitter just in case there’s something desperately urgent that someone needs to know from 800 years ago. So if you want to find me on Twitter, I’m happy to answer any and all questions about the Wars of the Roses, Richard III, the Princes in the Tower, anything like that. As you’ve probably discovered by now, I need no excuse to talk about these things.
Deb: Well, thank you very, very much, Matt. This has been great. I always enjoy talking to you and I meant that when your next book comes out, I’d love to have you back. We’ll find a way to tie it into the Tudors. I don’t think that will be a problem.
Matt: Definitely. I’d come back anytime. Thank you very much for having me, Deb.
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